Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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The town of Cirencester was a prosperous centre for wool and cloth, yet until the Dissolution it remained a manorial borough belonging to the local abbey. Founded by Henry I, the abbey had taken advantage of the financial needs of the Angevin kings to establish its powers over ‘the whole manor of Cirencester with the seven hundreds pertaining to the manor and its farm’. During the later middle ages the townsmen tried repeatedly to establish their right to a separate municipal authority. In 1403 Henry IV granted them a guild merchant, but in the next reign the abbot had this grant annulled. By the 16th century the town was divided into seven wards, each having two wardsmen or petty constables appointed by the abbot’s court leet, with two high constables for the whole town. On the eve of the Dissolution there was agitation for the annual election of the bailiff of the town and hundred. The abbot agreed to replace the current holder of the office by Robert Strange, the foreman of the leet jury, but he denied any right of election with the result that Strange stayed in office until the reign of Elizabeth.3

Some months after the surrender of the abbey in December 1539, the crown leased its main buildings for 21 years to Roger Basing. In 1546-7 Sir Thomas Seymour II obtained the bailiwick of the whole liberty and in August 1547 he received extensive lands in the area, with the reversion of the monastic site on the expiry of Basing’s lease. It must have been by virtue of these acquisitions that Seymour had two Members returned for Cirencester to the Parliament of that year. The town had sent Members to Parliament on at least one occasion during the 14th century, so that this was technically a restoration and not an enfranchisement. No indenture survives for 1547, but it presumably took the form of those later in the century, which describe elections as carried out by the ‘bailiff and burgesses’. That the borough was represented is known from its inclusion in the list of Members for the Parliament, where it appears as the last but one of the cities and towns, between Wigan and Thirsk. Both the Members were associated with Seymour’s brother, the Protector Somerset.4

On Seymour’s attainder the manor of Cirencester is said to have been granted to the Protector, who exchanged it with the crown for other lands. In October 1552 Edward VI granted the seven hundreds, with the manor, town and site of the abbey, to (Sir) Anthony Kingston. So ardent a Protestant might have been expected to have had Members returned for Cirencester in March 1553, but there is no evidence of an election on this occasion: perhaps there was some doubt about the status of the borough. The list of Members for Mary’s first Parliament includes its name, again not under Gloucestershire but at the end of the boroughs, after Calais; there are no names of Members. The next known election for Cirencester was to the Parliament of 1571.5

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. W. St. C. Baddeley, Cirencester, 100, 131, 133-4, 151, 174, 176 seq. 193-4, 220; S. Rudder, Cirencester, 90-94; H. P. R. Finberg, Glos. Studies, 45-46, 75-86; Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. ix. 298-9, 303-4, 338-40; Cartulary of Cirencester Abbey ed. Ross, pp. xxxvii-xxxix.
  • 4. W. K. Beecham, Cirencester, 11, 103, 110, 112; LP Hen. VIII, xxi(2), 774; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 25-33; C219/29/57; Hatfield 207.
  • 5. Fosbrooke, Glos. ii. 482 (2nd pagination); CPR, 1550-3, pp. 411-12; Bodl. e Museo 17.